Animated Shorts: From 'Saints' to 'Hellboy'

Ani Shorts: Talking with Brooke Burgess

Two years back, Animated Shorts did a feature on an up and coming animator, Brooke Burgess, and a web-only project he managed to get Fox to re-release as a DVD set, Broken Saints. To say this young Canadian has been a busy man since then is one hell of an understatement, particularly if you are a fan of Will Smith and/or Guillermo Del Toro.

For those not familiar with Broken Saints, Burgess originally intended it to be a novel or comic book while he was working for EA Sports. He left the company to work on his idea when he came upon fellow game heads Ian Kirby and Andrew West. Utilizing Flash 4, they turned Burgess story into an original web-only, animated graphic novel. With the financial aid of fans, the series turned into a true internet phenomenon. So much so that Fox Home Entertainment collected the entire set and released it as DVDs on August 1, 2006 and too much acclaim.

“It was a case of one thing led to another,” Burgess remembers. “I Am Legend happened right after Broken Saints came out on DVD. Will (Smith) and Jada (Pinkett-Smith) really liked what we did with Broken Saints, and wanted us to do something in the same vein.” [Newsarama Note: original Saints artist Andrew West did the art on one of the exclusive Legend animations, Shelter, written by fantasy star Orson Scott Card]

“If you get the I Am Legend DVD or Blu-Ray, on it are four animated shorts that sort of surround the overall story. They show what was happening around the world as the virus was spreading. They were done by different comic artists and writers. Then my team – mostly Ian Kirby and Sequence Post produced and directed them in the Saintly style. It was more in depth. It was done with Combustion and in Shake, not Flash. There were more layers, more intense use of animation. I remember when it was put up by Apple, it became their #1 download. It was even beating out movie trailers.”

With most animators, that could have been a career highlight, but not so for Burgess. As it happened, Guillermo Del Toro was running into some difficulties with Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, and Burgess would be the answer.

“What happened is there were certain scenes that were cut from the film for budget reasons. Now Del Toro loves everything that he writes, so he wanted to get those scenes done in one format or another,” said Burgess. “Someone at Universal who I had a long acquaintance had Del Toro look at Broken Saints, and he said yeah. So we had Mike Mignola’s favorite stand-in artist, Francisco Ruiz Velasco, do the art for both shorts. Then we had free reign to conceptualize, animate and produce as well.”

The end result is the film’s animated prologue.

“We did the prologue and the epilogue,” Burgess corrects. “The epilogue is a DVD exclusive. One thing you can tell is Del Toro is a fan of animation. You can tell by the way he puts his film together, leaving no detail untouched. Also, the way he sets up sequences shows a strong animation influence. He does a lot with storyboards and animatics.

“What I enjoyed was Del Toro gave me a lot of freedom to work around his script. He let me throw in some different directions that weren’t in the original film. I made it much more like Lord of the Rings than he did. I really wanted it to feel like epic fantasy. We really had some fun with it. For instance, we made the Golden Army really massive; much more massive than what Del Toro could have done in live action. He also let me and my cousin pull out all the stops on the music and get the guys from Cirque du Soleil do the score.

“This one was done with After Effects. I was also lucky enough to have recommended to me an animator down in L.A. called Shant Jordan who has his own effects company, Forge Vfx . He did a lot of the effects of Superman Returns.

As for now, Burgess is tangentially watching another project, one that should please fans of Batman to no end.

“What’s really cool is that my old partners from Saints, Ian and Andrew, nabbed the rights to do the animated version of Batman: Black & White from Warner Brothers,” says Burgess. “I’ll probably get in trouble, but they are taking the original Black and White stories, and are giving them the Saints treatment. I think this will be going on DC Online or some other Warner site, probably also Apple.

“I’m just consulted a bit on this project. I’m happy to let Ian fly on this one. We’re also going to have voice actors like Michael Dobson on it, as well as a couple of other very talented friends. It’s going to look really neat and super, super stylized.”

As for the future? Don’t be surprised if Burgess takes a page or two from Terry Gilliam and move into the live action arena. He won’t give out the specifics of the film, but one gets the feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the near future.

NEXT COLUMN: We talk to Next Avengers Director Gary Hartle.

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